DFG Research Unit 2448

Practicing Evidence – Evidencing Practice

The aim of our research group is to investigate the practices of evidence within the information society. Our point of departure is the observation that evidence as socially accepted, established knowledge originates in processes of negotiation. By combining history of science, sociology, philosophy, economics, environmental studies, and communication studies our group will examine how factual knowledge (data, results, findings etc.) attains the status of evidence, and in which relevant contexts this evidence influences decisions. Transversing disciplinary habits of perception, the increasing significance and functionalization of evidence in the scientific community will be analysed from both synchronic and diachronic perspectives.

In respect of this development, the 20th century marks an important turning point as well as starting point for our research group. Knowledge-based action is increasingly expected in multiplying areas of society, the significance of applied research is growing, and the pressure on science to provide legitimacy in view of the burgeoning discourse on risk, uncertainty and lack of knowledge is becoming imperative. All of these factors raise the stakes for evidence, and radically alter the interlinked processes of its production and use.

We circumscribe the specific areas of negotiation of evidence with the concept of ‚socio-epistemic configuration’, which includes several entities (agents, discourses, materialities, institutions, etc.). This broader perspective lies in the interlinking of contexts production and use, in which the chiasmus of practicing evidence and evidencing practice is at the heart of our study, and which we analyse with regard to three primary development processes in the information society: namely, technological advances, prediction, and coproduction as condition and driver of practices of evidence.

It is precisely at the interface between science and society that the ambiguity of the term ‘evidence’ is exposed, and whose semantic instability and flexibility is exploited in our research. All eight projects deal with specific instances of evidence generation that share one similarity: In each case, there are phenomena in which evidence is either desirable or dubious. Common questions, ideas, and modes of access generate synergies in the analysis of the selected examples. Our research group concentrates its collaboration on current and relevant cases of the postmodern information society via an interdisciplinary approach, which should ultimately provide transdisciplinary answers.